MT VOID 10/31/97 (Vol. 16, Number 18)

MT VOID 10/31/97 (Vol. 16, Number 18)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 10/31/97 -- Vol. 16, No. 18

Table of Contents

Outside events: The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County meets on the second Saturday of every month in Upper Saddle River; call 201-933-2724 for details. The New Jersey Science Fiction Society meets on the third Saturday of every month in Belleville; call 201-432-5965 for details.

MT Chair/Librarian:
       Mark Leeper   MT 3E-433  732-957-5619
HO Chair:     John Jetzt    MT 2E-530  732-957-5087
HO Librarian: Nick Sauer    HO 4F-427  732-949-7076
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist:
       Rob Mitchell  MT 2D-536  732-957-6330
Factotum:     Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433  732-957-2070
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

URL of the week:!dkeyes.htm. Daniel Keyes (FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON) home page. [-psrc]


I suppose this subject is going to be just slightly unsavory. I am going to say a little bit about sex. But I will try to keep this on a higher plane and talk not so much about sex itself as the scientific study of sex. In fact, there are a lot of scientists out studying sex these days. It is a lot like tropical islands. Garrison Keillor points out that scientifically we know a lot more about tropical islands than about the Arctic. The reason is that it is really easy to find scientists who are willing to go and do research on warm, inviting tropical islands. Not a whole lot of scientists think that it would be a really great idea to go and study the Arctic tundra. As a result tropical islands are far better understood. Perhaps the same sort of thing is true with people studying sex.

The topic itself is somehow fascinating and people really want to study it. What got me thinking about this was a listing in SCIENCE NEWS about a new book on the subject of sex in human and animal behavior. The book is WHY IS SEX FUN?: THE EVOLUTION OF HUMAN SEXUALITY by Jared Diamond, $20.

Now, the description of this book starts out, "Humans are virtually unique in their habit of engaging in sexual intercourse for pleasure, not just procreation." Right there I was saved from reading this book and saved $20. The author clearly wanted to study the subject without having much understanding before or gaining much along the way.

Mr. Jared Diamond is clearly no gem of a thinker. What does he think, there is some sort of a conversation like:

Mrs. Timber Wolf: Uh, Lobo, Let's fool around a little. I think we ought to start thinking about having pups.

Mr. Timber Wolf: Whoa! What, are you kidding? Don't you think we are a little young to be talking about cubs?

Mrs. Timber Wolf: Not at all. The time is just about right.

Mr. Timber Wolf: How do you figure that? We are still pretty much puppies ourselves.

Mrs. Timber Wolf: We are not. The Fangs have pups and White is younger than you are.

Mr. Timber Wolf: Look, I really really think that it is too soon. I was planning to go out and bay at the moon with the guys tonight.

Mrs. Timber Wolf: Lobo, we got to start soon.

Mr. Timber Wolf: What do you mean? I'm still a growing wolf. I need my food. I don't want to start coughing it up for cubs.

Mrs. Timber Wolf: Lobo, my biological clock is ticking. Now come on. I want to have a litter of pups in the spring.

Mr. Timber Wolf: So soon?

Mrs. Timber Wolf: Soon? Spring's still two dog years away! That's plenty of time to howl.

Well, you get the idea. This is not what happens in nature. This is not how an animal thinks about sex. There is no evidence that a timber wolf even knows that there is a connection between sex and puppies. It is far more likely that Lobo feels attracted to Caprice and things just take their course. Animals are thinking of the pleasure when they engage in sex. It is just a quick roll in the hay (or dead bird or whatever). Mr. Diamond would have to go a long way to prove to me that any animal but humans uses sex for procreation or even associates the two. But he makes this statement and builds a whole book on it and there is nobody to point out it is starting flawed. I tell you there is a lot of bad science out there. [-mrl]

GATTACA (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

GATTACA (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: GATTACA is a cold film that frequently stretches credibility, but still it stands as one of the more intelligent science fiction films of the 90s. Anatomy truly is destiny in a world where almost everything about you can be determined quickly from a DNA sample. One man with a dream of traveling in space carries out a long identity deception in a world where it should be impossible, by using another man's DNA to fool all the detectors. This is also a philosophical detective story a well as a science fiction film that looks deeply at the implications of too much genetic knowledge. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4), 8 (0 to 10)

While some pairs of identical twins lead surprisingly similar lives, frequently they do not and frequently they show different interests and potential. So there are limitations on the information about the adult that can be augured by a DNA examination. That makes it seem to be unlikely that we would ever get to the world as it is shown in GATTACA where everything anyone wants to know about you is encoded into your DNA. However, GATTACA assumes that the world has decided that DNA is the most reliable way of judging a person in spite of counter-examples like Vincent (played by Ethan Hawke) the main character of this story. Vincent has been delegated to the labor class based on his DNA. He looks wistfully at the rockets blasting off from the Gattaca Corporation and dreams of going off into space. He is highly motivated, but nobody notices because his DNA says that he just does not have the potential to be much more than a floor sweeper, permanently a part of the under-class. One wonders how so inaccurate a test could be accepted without question by a society, particularly after age of civil rights and civil liberties advances.

Vincent knows he does not have a chance of being chosen by the Gattaca Corporation for one of their probes into space, so he decides to literally reinvent himself. There is a criminal element who are willing to match him up with a human with a much better DNA structure who can supply him with hairs, urine samples, blood samples and any other kind of sample so that all the samples that Gattaca takes from him will really be from Jerome (Jude Law). Jerome agrees to live with Vincent, providing him with sufficient biological specimens to give to the company and letting Vincent take on Jerome's name. This is a tricky process involving things like false finger tips filled with Jerome's blood form the ID machine that takes a sample. We see how Vincent is occasionally able to substitute Jerome's specimens for his own, but it is never really convincing that he could do that whenever the need arises. Vincent romances a fellow employee Irene Cassini (Uma Thurman) who gets pulled into this web of deception.

The story moves at a languorous pace showing how the world has changed since the conversion to the DNA standard. Andrew M. Niccol who wrote and directed has given us a "not too distant future" that is not entirely convincing, but is still worth seeing. Loose ends abound, but that may be part of the point. For example, Vincent has taken over for Jerome and is telling the world that he is the same person, but Jerome has a "toffee-nosed" British accent and so presumably comes from an environment that would produce such an accent. Vincent does not have a British accent at all. Yet nobody seems to even care to compare Vincent to his claimed background. It is hard to place how far this world is in the future. Women and men at Gattaca dress in almost identical uniforms and women wear their hair in almost masculine styles. Cars make the whining sound of turbines, but still look a lot like the cars of today.

The photography by Slawomir Idziak is just a bit showy, bathing some scenes in yellow or blue light. Particularly in the first half of the film it is often his camerawork that creates the mood in scenes devoid of any music. It gives the world a repressive, sterile, dry feel. Michael Nyman's score when it does kick in is repetitive almost to the point of being minimalist.

GATTACA has a few places where it could have had the details better developed, but it is a complex story, perhaps of the complexity of a novel. It is told without the too common problems of science fiction of too much special effects replacing careful thought. If anything, GATTACA is a film that substitutes intelligence for explosions. This is about people caught up in a sort of cautionary dystopic world. It may not be a likely world, but it has well- developed character in this world. Overall I would rate GATTACA a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

FAIRYTALE: A TRUE STORY (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

Capsule: This fanciful retelling of a historic incident is too slow and dour and offers too little for the eye of a younger child and it is a bit patronizing for adults. Still, its study of why people believe what they do will play better on an adult audience than a children's matinee. Two school-girls create a sensation by apparently photographing fairies in their garden. The film does a nice job of creating little people with dragonfly wings to come down on the side of claiming that the fairies were real. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4), 6 (0 to 10)

When Richard Adams wrote WATERSHIP DOWN it was not really clear who his audience would be. The story seemed too violent for children and a tale of rabbits looking for a safe warren seemed a little puerile for adults. It was a difficult task for Adams to get it published, but once it was it remained a bestseller for years. That book notwithstanding, it is a good idea to know when you are telling a story whom you expect to be your audience. FAIRYTALE: A TRUE STORY is a film that was made without too much thought as to who its audience would be. As a result it is too slow and deliberate to be a children's film and it is a bit too logically inconsistent to work well for adults. The story tells of how two young girls during World War I produced what they claimed to be authentic photographs of fairies in an English country garden. At the time, the story caused quite a sensation. Notables including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini investigated the claims and Doyle became convinced. FAIRYTALE: A TRUE STORY is a fictionalized account of what happened told from the point of view that the fairies were real. To claim this to be a true story and to have special effects fairies flitting around seems less than strictly honest, though I suppose the filmmakers are taking the viewpoint of believers.

It is a miserable time in 1917 England, with men returning from the war having been shot to pieces in battle. Nine-year old South African Frances Griffiths (played by Elizabeth Earl) lost her father in the war and comes to England to stay with her twelve-year old cousin Elsie Wright (Florence Hoath). [Historical note: the actual children's ages were ten and sixteen respectively according to one source. However, the "true" story plays better if they are younger.] Elsie is also mourning a recent loss, that of her older brother. The two girls, shown here as almost being too storybook perfect, build a bond of friendship. Then one day when playing in the garden, Frances sees a fairy. The fairies will not let themselves be seen by adults, but Frances and Elsie determine to prove the presence of the fairies by borrowing Elsie's father's camera and taking a picture. That is just what they do and resulting photographs cause a sensation. Peter O'Toole plays Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the hard-nosed skeptic Sherlock Holmes, who nevertheless is ready to accept the photographs as real. He calls in master illusionist and debunker Harry Houdini (played very nicely by Harvey Keitel).

                                   Mark Leeper
                                   MT 3E-433 732-957-5619

Quote of the Week:

     It makes no difference who you vote for--the two
     parties are really one party representing 4% of
     the people.
                                   -- Gore Vidal